After Elizabeth Fiedler lost her job as an academic researcher and she couldn't find another -- it's tough to land a job when you're in your 60s -- she was frustrated. "I didn't want to retire. I felt like I was being put on the shelf prematurely," she said.
She began focusing her research skills -- honed at Harvard where she earned a doctorate in education -- on how other working women her age were coping with retirement planning, and how many of them were choosing to keep working.
She launched what's known as a "snowball" survey, sending a list of questions to all the women she knew who were older than 65 and still on the job, asking them to not only take the survey, but also send it along to other people who fit the profile. Ultimately, she got 155 responses. She did in-depth interviews with 34 of those. The result is a book, "Women Still at Work: Professionals Over 60 and on the Job."
The book examines what keeps older women on the job. Their reasons are mostly not economic. "My research wasn't intended to overlook the many people who must continue working because they need to make ends meet," Fiedler says. "But the segment of the population on which I concentrated is all highly educated and in professions that don't require physical labor. Most of them were in the position to be able to continue working only if they wanted to," she says.
Many women she interviewed told her they got a late start. Like Fiedler, who this month celebrates her 50th wedding anniversary, they married, had children and stayed home to raise them. They didn't enter the workforce until their children were nearly grown. "They worked so damn hard to get where they've gotten that they aren't going to quit now," she says. "They are good at what they do. They are at the peak of their careers, and they aren't going to stop."
In some fields there is an age ceiling, but that is changing. Fiedler points to the situation in New York state where Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, a Democrat from Brooklyn, has sponsored a bill to allow judges to keep working past the mandatory retirement ages of either 70 or 76, depending on the court. The bill requires a voter referendum to change the state constitution, and many think it will pass because people of all ages recognize that good judges are hard to find.
Some women she interviewed got around the expectation of retirement by becoming self employed. "Women in their 60s and 70s who go into business for themselves have flexibility, and that satisfies a lot of the older women," Fiedler says.
The thing all of them have in common is reasonably good health. "You need to have your health. You have to have the stamina to do the work," Fiedler says.